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Alcohol Issues Insights

With the US government preparing the 2016 traffic fatality statistics for release soon, the Center for Alcohol Policy (CAP) hosted veteran researcher Jim Fell and NHTSA’s Chief Safety Scientist Joseph Kolly to explore “The Future of Impaired Driving Countermeasures” at the CAP conference last week.  Kolly reminded that the dramatic progress in reducing annual alcohol-impaired crash deaths from over 21,000 in 1982 to under 10,000 in 2011 has stalled over the last 5 years or so.  And while the number of alcohol-impaired crash deaths hasn’t changed in recent years, the percentage of all drivers involved in fatal crashes with a BAC of .08 or higher hasn’t changed in two decades, stuck at approximately 20%, though down from over 1/3 in 1982. Can technology bring back a sharp reduction, or possibly eliminate, alcohol-impaired driving deaths?  MADD and other safety groups seem to believe so.  NHTSA, along with private partners in the auto industry, hope the DADSS system will ultimately prevent any impaired person from starting or operating a vehicle.  They seek a quick, accurate, reliable, low-cost solution that can “instantly” tell whether a driver is impaired, Kolly pointed out.  Possibilities include a breath- or touch-based detection system, or, ultimately, automated vehicles…

Publishing Info

  • Year 2017
  • Volume 34
  • Issue # 29
Ironically, but predictably, while the science supporting benefits of moderate alcohol consumption continues to build (see our last newsletter), so does the skepticism about that science and whether/how to share that information with the public.  NBC News published a very positive piece in early August: “7 Science-Backed Ways Beer Is Good for Your Health.”  From the outset, NBC stressed moderation and defined it with the Dietary Guidelines, 1 drink per day for women, up to 2 drinks/day for men.   Among the benefits NBC shared: nutritional contribution (protein, B vitamins, phosphorus, folate and niacin); reduced risks of diabetes, cardiovascular disease; improved cognitive function; reduced inflammation; stronger bones; longer life; cleaner teeth.  Other than the last (new to us) these benefits have significant scientific support and will be familiar to readers of AII, again bolstered by very recent studies. NBC included references to over a half dozen specific studies/journal articles in its review.  That wasn’t enough for the watchdogs at HealthNewsReview.org, a group of medical professionals and journalists who aim to “improve the public dialogue” about health care and assist consumers to “critically analyze” health claims made in the media, marketing etc.  Within days of the NBC report, the site published “3…

Publishing Info

  • Year 2017
  • Volume 34
  • Issue # 28
The debate over reducing legal BAC driving limits to .05 in North America continues.  In Canada, a federal justice Minister recommended a nationwide .05 limit earlier this year (.08 is the limit in Canada, but most provinces already levy penalties for drivers over .05).  Several Canadian newspapers picked up the debate earlier this week, quoting Minister Jody Wilson-Raybould’s supporting arguments and several industry-based criticisms of the proposal.  She defended a federal limit of .05 as a way to “better respond to the dangers posed by impaired drivers,” by sending a “stronger message” to all drivers.  Recent scientific data, she claims, suggests that earlier research had “underestimated the fatal crash risk” of driving at lower BAC levels.  She also pointed to the experience in Ireland where lower BAC levels resulted in significant declines in fatal crashes and criminal charges.  (Interestingly, MADD Canada supports a lower BAC level, in contrast to the public position of MADD in the US.) Meanwhile, a spokesman for Quebec restaurateurs feared a “significant drop in total revenues” that would result from the policy change, as “celebrations, parties, all that will be done at home as people change their behavior.  It’s easy to talk about taking a taxi…

Publishing Info

  • Year 2017
  • Volume 34
  • Issue # 26
Like other national surveys, the annual Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance (YRBS) data shows significant dropoffs in youth drinking rates over the long term (See June 13 AII Update). YRBS data also indicate what's been happening with other teen behaviors, including tobacco and drug use, driving, dating and more. This broader view puts drinking trends, and perhaps policy priorities, into context. Below are some comparisons between 2015 YRBS findings - measured in the percentage of those in grades 9 thru 12 reporting the activities ? and those of a decade earlier. The recent, ongoing progress made in reducing youth drinking is even more remarkable when compared to the lack of progress in reducing other risky behaviors: marijuana use, tobacco use, suicide attempts and experiencing physical/sexual violence. Perhaps the most impressive drinking stat of all is the decline in the number of students who say they started drinking before age 13. YRBS reports a dropoff of nearly one-third in this measure over the last decade alone. Many experts view delaying onset of drinking as a critical prevention goal. The tobacco figures are tricky because vaping, not measured in 2005, has become so popular. Excluding vaping, there is also a significant drop in…

Publishing Info

  • Year 2016
  • Volume 33
  • Issue # 6
While leading public health advocates at the recent Alcohol Policy 17 meeting dismissed the notion of any cooperation with the industry, the Responsible Retailing Forum (RRF) remains a bastion of collaboration to reduce/prevent alcohol-related problems.  RRF’s Annual Forum in Boston last week included rare comingling of industry (represented by each of 3 tiers), regulators, enforcement, academics, researchers and even a public health advocate or two to explore areas of mutual concern and potential collaboration.  Industry miscues are not ignored, but nor is industry excluded from debate and problem solving.  The wide-ranging program included a fascinating discussion of e-cigarettes/vaping where speakers charged that public health advocates and the federal government are seriously misrepresenting research to follow their own anti-tobacco company policy agendas.  Some of the parallels to alcohol policy debates were striking.  (Elsewhere, Reuters just ran a long article exploring criticisms of the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a WHO arm that has deemed alcohol a “known carcinogen,” but doesn’t really measure the critical issue of risk levels.  This leads to confusion and misleads consumers, experts believe.)  Meanwhile, as if tackling sales to minors and service to intoxicated patrons isn’t enough, RRF has partnered with the International Town & Gown…

Publishing Info

  • Year 2016
  • Volume 33
  • Issue # 4
Chalk another one up for drink variability.  The question was prompted in at least one media outlet (Eureka Alert) after the release of a new study that sought to compile “standard drink measures and low-risk consumption guidelines for all the countries in the world” that do so.  Not surprisingly, the authors found significant variation in both measures. First, only about half of the 75 countries the authors identified that might define these measures actually do.   The “modal standard” they found did follow the World Health Organization’s drink definition of 10 grams of pure ethanol.  About half of the 37 countries that defined a standard drink use a 10-gram measure.  “But the variation was wide,” the authors found: from 8 grams (UK, Iceland, elsewhere) up to 20 grams (Austria).  The US is 14 grams, almost twice the UK level.  International researchers are constantly challenged to adjust their findings and language about “light” and “moderate” drinking from society to society because of these differences.  Then again, government “definitions” and actual pours/package sizes also vary significantly, as Beer Institute, many others and now the US Dietary Guidelines point out.   At the same time, “low risk guidance” (a loaded phrase in and of…

Publishing Info

  • Year 2016
  • Volume 33
  • Issue # 4
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